Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: Envy by Gregg Olsen

Publisher: Splinter
Publication Date: August 23rd, 2011

New York Times bestselling adult true crime author Gregg Olsen makes his YA debut with EMPTY COFFIN, a gripping new fiction series for teens based on ripped-from-the-headlines stories…with a paranormal touch.

Crime lives--and dies--in the deceptively picture-perfect town of Port Gamble (aka “Empty Coffin”), Washington. Evil lurks and strange things happen--and 15-year-olds Hayley and Taylor Ryan secretly use their wits and their telepathic “twin-sense” to uncover the truth about the town's victims and culprits. 

Envy, the series debut, involves the mysterious death of the twins' old friend, Katelyn. Was it murder? Suicide? An accident? Hayley and Taylor are determined to find out--and as they investigate, they stumble upon a dark truth that is far more disturbing than they ever could have imagined. 

Based on the shocking true crime about cyber-bullying, Envy will take you to the edge--and push you right over.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This book is definitely a book that I picked up because of the cover.  I mean, do they come any creepier?  I get the heebie-jeebies just looking at it.  Being the cover whore that I am, I was drawn to it.  It just screamed "must read" at me.  I had never heard of Gregg Olsen, and to be honest I've never been a huge fan of the True Crime genre; it's just too real and graphic for me, but because of the cover and the interesting synopsis I gave it a shot.  Well, I am happy to report that it was a fantastic read!

This was Gregg Olsen's 1st YA book, and I think he has a knack for it.  I've not read his other True Crime novels, but the ones I have read by other authors were horribly graphic and not meant for younger readers, so I wondered how this might play out.  Olsen manages to tone down the horrifying details to the point where it's fine for YA readers without losing the absolute bone-chilling, seat-gripping suspense that the TC genre is famous for.  I started this book at 10:30-11:00pm and I regretted it the next day... The creep-out factor in the first several chapters makes this book positively unputdownable.  It was like an unseen force was holding my eyelids open and turning the pages.  I had a undeniable need to know what would happen next.  I stayed up most of the night reading; at 2:30am, I forced myself to turn out the lights because I had to be up in 3 hours to start my day as a mom of three, but then I couldn't sleep.  I couldn't stop thinking about the book.  As soon as my kids were off to school and my basic needs of coffee, eating, and showering were met, I was back at it.  I finished it right before my first kid got off the bus; I got nothing else done for that day, and it was worth it!  This book was well written, and had a familiar story, but with a few twists.  Not at all what I expected, but much, much better.  Gregg Olsen has earned himself a fan in me.  To be able to write True Crime for a younger audience, with the appropriate amount of horrifying detail, while at the same time not dumbing it down, takes talent!  I can't wait for the second book in the Empty Coffin series to come out!  I will be pre-ordering it for sure!

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  There is an element of truth here and some fairly graphic scenes, although nothing over the top.  There are some implied acts that are rather awful as well.  I would make my own daughter (she's 10) wait a year or two to read this, but not longer because there are great lessons to be learned about cyber-bullying in the excitement of the story.  Ages 12+ (7th grade and up).

Side note, and this is me speaking as a parent... I appreciate Gregg taking on the issue of bullying (when you read the book, you'll understand what I'm talking about) in his 1st YA book.  So many adults do not really take bullying seriously enough because they don't understand how much worse it is now than even when I was in high school (Class of '94).  Technologhy is a total game game changer.  Facebook, IM, Twitter, MySpace- social networking is not the wave of the future anymore, but a way for anonymous bullying to run rampant if allowed.  People don't always realize how the "little" things they say and do can set off a chain of events that can end tragically. The thought process is even more diluted when they don't have to say/do these things face-to-face.  This book does a great job showcasing this in a non-preachy sort of way that could very well get through to its audience.

**Don't forget to enter my GIVEAWAY for a copy of The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson!!  It ends at 12:01am November 10th.  Click HERE for details.**

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Thoughts (as the book's biggest fan) on the Shine Debacle...

I know this is kind of old news, but given my love for this book, I felt like I had to spew my thoughts on this matter...

If you've been a follower for any amount of time, you know that Shine (by Lauren Myracle) is my favorite book of 2011, and one of my favorites of all time (read my review HERE to find out why).  A couple of weeks ago when it was announced that it had been nominated for a National Book Award, I did a happy dance that lasted at least 5 minutes (which may not seem like a long time, but try it and see if you're not sweating at the end).  I was so happy for her because a.) I really, REALLY love the book, and b.) I think Lauren is the type of person who could teach a class (or write a book?) to help 90% of the world's population get a clue as to how to act; she is honest, sweet, down-to-earth, and kind- beautiful inside and out.  She has been the target of so many nutjobs wanting to dictate to others what they should read, when all she is really doing is being real.  She understands the teenage mind, and the crazies out there don't want to believe what they (really aren't) reading.  But that's another post (read it HERE if you want to).  Anyway, I was thrilled.  I usually think the judges of these awards (with very few exceptions) have their heads up their asses with their choices, so I was surprised when they finally got one right.  I should have known it was too good to be true...

While I was toiling away, running the book fair at my daughter's (who, by the way, is the reason I ever picked up one of Lauren's books, so Thank You, Emma!) school- away from the blogs, twitter, and the news- all of the chaos over Lauren's un-nomination took place.  (If you aren't aware of what happened, read this POST by Libba Bray, because she does a great job summing it up!)  When I heard, I was absolutely crushed, so I can't imagine how Lauren must have felt...  Yet, she handled herself with grace and dignity.  She gave several interviews, and while it was clear she was disappointed, she never once made it about her.  She was all about the message of the book and her reasons behind writing.  She was gracious to the point of excusing the morons at the National Book Foundation for their mistake.  After reading her responses, I felt embarrassed thinking about how I would have responded in her situation.  The National Book Award earned my respect by making Shine a finalist.  They lost it to the point where there is nothing that could earn it back when they retracted that.  Shine will always be a winner in my eyes and it certainly doesn't need that gold sticker, especially since it will never mean anything to me again after what they have done.  They should be ashamed of themselves.

If you tweet about this, make sure to use the hashtag #ISupportShine.  We want everyone, especially Lauren, to know that we as a community are behind her and her beautiful masterpiece!  If you haven't read it yet, drop everything and read it now. A couple of months ago I ranked it my #1 YA read of 2011, and that ranking still stands (read that post HERE).  Everyone, EVERYONE needs to read this book!

Review: Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
Publication Date:  September 1st, 2011

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special. 
This is not her story. 
Unless you count the part where I killed her. 

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison's condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can't explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori -- the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that's impossible. Right?
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Where do I even start with this book review?   Honestly, this is probably the most challenging book I have ever reviewed because there isn't much I can say without spoilers.  Was it good?  Oh yes.  It was GREAT.  Why?  Well, that's a little more difficult to dance around, but I'll do my best...

First and foremost, this book is not at all what you expect.  Honestly, there is just no way that any reader would see it's big reveal and subsequent events coming unless they were given a heads up (and I am NOT going to be the one to ruin it for you!).  This book is so unique, in so many ways.  I buddy read this with my 5th grade daughter, me always a couple of chapters ahead to make sure the content was okay (it's fine, by the way).  There were a few big twists, but the BIG twist was epic.  I had an extremely difficult time waiting the day or two that it took her to catch up to me, so I could discuss it with her; I was like a toddler waiting to see Mickey Mouse at Disney World during that time- I really, REALLY wanted to talk to someone about it.  I actually sat in her room to watch her read that chapter, so I could see her mouth drop like mine did...  I love books that are unpredictable.  It makes my week when an author can make my jaw drop with an unexpected turn in the story.  R.J. Anderson not only did this, but she left my jaw hanging like that for a solid 5 minutes (I am so glad I was not in a public place when I read it!).  So, yeah, the story rocked...

I also liked this book for the writing.  Often I will come across a book that has such a promising story, and the writing kills it for me; sometimes I'll love a story and it will have so-so writing, and I get sad because I know it could have been so much more if it were written by someone else.  This story and it's writer were PERFECT for one another.  This story could have been a confusing disaster, but R.J. Anderson managed to write it so the reader never gets lost.  The main character has Synesthesia, which is a real phenomenon (google it if you want to know more), and because most people are unfamiliar with it, it could have been difficult for the reader to understand, but it really wasn't because of the writing.  It's clear that R.J. Anderson did her research for this book.  The pace was great as well.  You know how in old stage comedy acts the person on stage is grabbed by the neck with a hook and yanked off stage?  That's how I felt from the first chapter; I was pulled in and there was no fighting it,  The story never lagged, but I never felt like there was information overload either.  I liked the characters and how their stories unfolded,  and I really liked how the backstory was filled in with flashbacks relating to the events going on in the present.  The only thing I found bothersome was the abrupt ending.  The buildup was so intense and then it was done.  It's not that I didn't like the ending, I just felt like I wanted more...

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½  

Grade Level Recommendation:  Like I said in my review, I buddy read this with my 5th grader and thought it was fine.  The protagonist is in a mental institution and the main person of interest after a breakdown following the disappearance and suspected murder of a peer.  That may bother some parents/teachers, but my kid watches the news, so I knows she's heard/seen worse.  It may take a more mature reader to understand some of the interpersonal relationships, but there's nothing I would consider inappropriate about this book.  Ages 11 and up (5th grade+).

**Don't forget to enter my GIVEAWAY for a copy of The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson!!  It ends at 12:01am November 10th.  Click HERE for details.**

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review & Giveaway: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: September 29th, 2011

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it's the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper events of more than a century ago.

Soon "Rippermania" takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was walking with her at the time, didn't notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Okay, so I have always liked Maureen Johnson.  She writes an eclectic mix of things, but I always find her witty and funny.  This book was a departure from what I'm used to reading from her, but that isn't a bad thing.  I actually loved this book.  A lot.  So much so, that I had to review it right away and include a giveaway because it was so good and I needed to share, and it is the perfect time of year to read it because the events take place right around now.  So, why did I love it?

Well, first off, it was a wonderful blend of genres.  You have a combination of Paranormal, Mystery, Historical Fiction, Muticultural, and Romance.  There's really something for everyone in this book.  It was well researched and fabulously written.  I'm no writer, but I can imagine that it is difficult to seamlessly blend genres like Maureen did, and I'm very impressed.  Next, the world building was very nice.  I've never been to London, but I feel like I could now navigate East End, and the very least.  Her descriptions were great and very authentic.  It is abundantly clear that she lives there part-time.  

I liked the characters, and although I found one or two annoying, I didn't really dislike anyone (except the killer).  Boo was my favorite.  She made me laugh, and I loved her manner.  Jerome is one of my new imaginary boyfriends.  As for Rory, there were a few times I wanted to smack her, but overall I really liked her.  I loved her Southerness; her love of fatty foods, iced tea, and long drawn-out stories.  I liked that there was some mystery around some of the characters.  It bothers me when authors develop everyone at the beginning because it's not real.  You don't get to know people in an instant; it's a gradual thing, and that's how these characters were written.

As for the story... LOVED IT!  It was well paced, and had oodles of twists and turns.  I will not spoil it all for you by giving anything up, but I will say that it was a total page-turner.  I could not put it down and had to bribe myself with a chapter in order to get anything else done (load dishwasher=1 chapter, fold a load of laundry=1 chapter, etc.).  It was not at all what I expected, but SO much better.  When I heard about this book, I was intrigued, but it wasn't at the tippy-top of my list, but I'm telling you, now that I've read it, it should definitely be at the tippy-top of yours.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book can be gory at times; it is about a serial killer who is recreating the Jack the Ripper murders of the late 19th century, so it can be graphic.  Other than that there really isn't much that would be objectionable for the average middle schooler.  There's a little teen drinking, but it takes place in London, and it's legal, and there's some innocent romance.  I would say this is fine for 6th grade and up provided the violent nature of the murders isn't an issue.  (Ages 11+)

...and now, for the giveaway I promised (because I loved this book so much and had to share!)!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Miss Me?

Hi All!  I hope you haven't missed me too terribly!  I got asked at the very last minute to take over the chairpersonship of the book fair at my daughter's new school, and I gladly did, but I literally had to drop my life to do it on such short notice...  This is the first time I've opened my laptop in a week, and, oh, how I've missed it.

I was almost caught up on my reviews, and now I'm a bit behind again, but not horribly so (I didn't have much time to read last week either).  Today and tomorrow I will be posting some reviews, and trust me, you want to read them... I just read Maureen Johnson's new book The Name of the Star, and WOW!  It was awesome!  I can't wait to gush about it!  I think I might have to give a copy away because I loved it so much!  Stay tuned!

Sooooo... I'm back!  Yay!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Before the Blog (8): White Cat by Holly Black

Some of you already know this, but I've started a weekly meme called "Before the Blog". In short, it's a place to review books you read and loved before you began blogging about them. Basically, you choose a book each week, then answer the following three questions,and post your review.   Then you can add the name of your BtB book and author to the little Mr. Linky widget below, and voila!

Why did you choose this book? 
When did you read this book?
Who would you recommend this book to?

For more info, see my 1st BtB post by clicking this LINK.  The book I chose this week is...

White Cat by Holly Black

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: May 4th, 2010

Why did you choose this book?  I am a big fan of Holly Black.  I can't honestly say that I have met a book of hers that I haven't liked.  I was intrigued by this because most of her books are centered around the fey, and this was such a departure.

When did you read this book?  January, 2011

Who would you recommend this book to? Anyone who likes Holly Black.  Middle School and High School boys who want a great YA book with a male protagonist.  Fans of organized crime dramas.

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.
Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.
Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love — or death — and your dreams might be more real than your memories.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

A lot of the earlier reviews of this book bashed the hell out of it, and I just don't get it.  I thought Holly Black did a superb job with this story.  I guess some people couldn't handle the departure from her usual subject matter (faery, paranormal), but I commend her for writing something so different from what she usually writes, and doing it so well.  That's difficult.  I was initially reluctant to read it because of all the bashing it got on Goodreads, and I know now that it would have been a mistake not to read it.  It is now my favorite series of Holly's.   It was so original, well thought out, well written, and suspenseful.  The story was wonderfully paced and I could not put it down.  Holly managed to keep the surprises coming and I never knew what to expect next; that rarely happens for me in books.  I loved that there was a male protagonist, and that he believed himself to be somewhat of an outcast.  I also liked the whole crime family element.  It was like The Godfather with magic.  I happen to like those kinds of books/films/TV shows (I was a religious The Sopranos watcher, and Goodfellas is one of my all-time favorite movies.), so this was right up my alley.  I think a combination of these facts (male protag/outcast, crime family, magic) would make this book very appealing to teen males, and that is important when so much popular YA is geared toward girls. (Not to say that girls would not love it to, because they would- and do!)  I also liked the subtle questions the story raised; family duty vs. ethics, love vs. what's right, etc.; I think anyone reading this would ponder these things.  I, personally, still haven't come to many conclusions on that end- everything is very gray, which makes this book all the more enticing.

My only gripe at the time of reading was the ending.  I don't want to spoil by saying what made me so mad, but I was pissed at how it was left dangling.  I know it was for the purposes of enticing me into reading book #2 (Red Glove), and it worked, but I was still pissy because I was SO invested in the story and had to wait three more months until its release.  After reading Red Glove, all is forgiven because I liked it even better, but at that time, Holly Black was not my favorite person.

Overall, I really adored this book, and it's successor (Red Glove) as well.  I actually listened to Red Glove on audio, and it was fantastically done by Jesse Eisenberg.  He also did this book, so if you like the audio format, do yourself a favor and give both books a listen rather than a read.  He really brings the character of Cassel Sharpe to life.  I very anxiously await Black Heart, which is set to release April 3rd, 2012.

My Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  The School Library Journal reviewer says grades 9 and up, but I disagree.  I would put this more like grades 7 and up.  There is some mild sexual content, language, crime, and a bunch of violence, but if it were a movie, I don't think it would get higher than a PG-13 rating.  I would let my 12 year old read this and know that he/she would enjoy it and have things to ponder while doing so. (ages 12+)

**Don't forget to enter my AWESOME giveaway of an audio copy of the AMAZING All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin HERE!**

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

WWW (17) and Waiting On Wednesday (October 12th, 2011) Double Feature

W. W. W. Wednesday is hosted by Should Be Reading a great blog that I subscribe to. Here's how it works... Each Wednesday I will answer the following questions:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you'll read next?

Great week this past week for reading.  Hoping this week will be as good!  I haven't had as much time to read as I'd like lately, but at least what I've been reading has been worth it.  So without further ado, my WWW...

What are you currently reading?

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan~ I'm only a couple of chapters in, but so far, I'm really optimistic.  I think this is going to be a really good book.
Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan~ I just started this audio this morning.  Stay tuned.  If it's good, I'll be giving a copy away!  :)

What did you recently finish reading?

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins~ As always, pure greatness.  I can't say that this book was enjoyable, but it was beautiful in a sad way.  Look for my review this week.  I need to process a little more...
Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs~ I have really enjoyed all of Tera's books, but this one is her best yet.  Loved it!  Check out my review HERE.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson~ I honestly JUST finished this and I still need to process it.  Excellent!

What do you think you'll read next?

The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa~ I didn't get to it last week, but it is next on my list.  SOOO looking forward to it!

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson~ I have heard so many fabulous things!  I cannot wait to dig into this one!

"Waiting On" Wednesday is another fun blog event. Hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, this event gives us a chance to talk about the books we anxiously await the release of. Since there is ALWAYS a looooooong list of books I'm waiting on (I actually keep a spreadsheet), I figured this is one that I MUST do.

The Drowned Cities (Ship Breaker #2) by Paolo Bacigalupi

In this exhilarating companion to Printz Award winner and National Book Award finalist Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi brilliantly captures a dark future America that has devolved into unending civil wars, driven by demagogues who recruit children to become soulless killing machines. Two refugees of these wars, Mahlia and Mouse, are known as "war maggots": survivors who have barely managed to escape the unspeakable violence plaguing the war-torn lands of the Drowned Cities. But their fragile safety is threatened when they discover a wounded half-man--a bioengineered war beast named Tool, who is hunted by a vengeful band of soldiers. When tragedy strikes, Mahlia is faced with an impossible decision: risk everything to save the boy who once saved her, or flee to her own safety.

Drawing upon the brutal truths of current events, The Drowned Cities is a powerful story of loyalty, survival, and heart-pounding adventure.
(Courtesy of Amazon)

Ship Breaker was absolutely phenomenal.  It was one of those books that I put off, and put off, and then mentally kicked myself for waiting so long when I finally got around to reading it.  I usually wholeheartedly disagree with judge's picks for award winners, but in this case, they were so right.  Ship Breaker deserved every award it was nominated for for and/or won.  I expect its companion, Drowned Cities, will be as good, if not better.  I am very, VERY anxiously Waiting On this one!

Publisher:  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 1st, 2012
My Expected Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ++

What are you Waiting On?

**Don't forget to enter my AWESOME giveaway of an audio copy of the AMAZING All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin HERE!**

Review: The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: February 1st, 2010

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny; one she could never have imagined.
Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home.
When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.
But she could never have guessed the truth - that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I have been resisting  this series for awhile.  I had heard loads of great things and the reviews have been fantastic, but I just didn't have much desire to read these books.  Here's why... I really dislike most love triangles and all of the Team Ash/Team Puck stuff turned me off.  I thought, "Oh great. Just what we need. A Twilight with fairies.".  I liked Twilight.  In fact, I kind of loved it (even if  it was kind of poorly written), but I am sick of all the copycats out there who rewrite it with different paranormal creatures and add a different title.  It's made me bitter and jaded and hating the genre for all of my wasted time.  I want originality and excitement.  I know this may be too much to ask of some authors, but Julie Kagawa delivers it on a silver platter with The Iron King.  The entire time I was reading it, I was mentally kicking myself for not doing so sooner.  It is very different from Twilight and it's brilliantly and beautifully written.  I didn't think it was perfect, but I have a feeling this book was set-up for what promises to be as phenomenal a series as everyone says it is.

I'll get my gripe out of the way first... I don't much like Meghan.  She's kind of naive, idealistic, and a bit on the whiny "poor me" side.  I will admit that as the story progressed, I began to like her more, but she hasn't won me over just yet.  I'm confident that she will though.  I liked the other characters quite well, my favorite being Grim.  I cannot wait to see how he manages to shake things up later on.  The fey... Loved them.  All of them, even the "bad" ones.  They were just what fey are supposed to be in my mind; rather aloof, cruel by human standards, and gorgeous in unconventional ways.  I loved Julie Kagawa's descriptions of them.  She made them beautiful, even when they weren't really supposed to be... And speaking of descriptions, the world building was amazing.  As dangerous as it was, I wanted to be in that world.  Seelie, Unseelie, in between, I don't care!  It was all stunning in my imagination, thanks to the way it was written.

As for the story itself... Definitely plot driven and while some people say that about books with a sneer, I don't think that it's always a bad thing.  This plot was fantastic.  It was filled with kick-butt action and suspense.  It was well paced, and I never saw any of the twists coming at all.  It grabbed me from the beginning and still hasn't let go of me.  I have The Iron Daughter, The Iron Queen, and The Iron Knight on my Kindle at this very moment, and I am sure you will be seeing my reviews of them within the next couple of weeks.  It pains me that I can't just read them back-to-back-to-back like I would like to...  You may be thinking, "Okay. You liked the book, but are you Team Ash or Team Puck?"  Well, I can't answer that.  Maybe I need to continue reading, but I don't see a love triangle there.  Puck's a buddy.  He's Meghan's BFF; I don't see a romantic spark there at all.  Ash is pretty freaking hot in my imagination though, even if he does seem like a sullen, indecisive jerk.  :)

Julie Kagawa has gained a fan in me.  I love it when I am so very wrong about a popular book/series.  I makes me respect the author even more if they can overcome my preconceived prejudices.   I would have given this book five stars, but I can't get past my feelings for Meghan.  We'll see if she grows on me in the subsequent books.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  Nothing really objectionable.  Perfectly fine for Middle School.  Grades 6 and up (ages 11+).

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Review: Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins
Publication Date: September 6th, 2011

Grace just moved to San Francisco and is excited to start over at a new school. The change is full of fresh possibilities, but it’s also a tiny bit scary. It gets scarier when a minotaur walks in the door. And even more shocking when a girl who looks just like her shows up to fight the monster.
Gretchen is tired of monsters pulling her out into the wee hours, especially on a school night, but what can she do? Sending the minotaur back to his bleak home is just another notch on her combat belt. She never expected to run into this girl who could be her double, though.
Greer has her life pretty well put together, thank you very much. But that all tilts sideways when two girls who look eerily like her appear on her doorstep and claim they’re triplets, supernatural descendants of some hideous creature from Greek myth, destined to spend their lives hunting monsters.
These three teenage descendants of Medusa, the once-beautiful Gorgon maligned in myth, must reunite and embrace their fates in this unique paranormal world where monsters lurk in plain sight.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Even though I am somewhat behind in my reviews (although much closer to caught up than I was a few weeks ago!), I wanted to get my review of this book up.  Why? Because it's AWESOME!  I love Tera Lynn Childs's books.  I really do.  They aren't especially deep or message-driven, but sometimes the message-driven stuff can get to be too much, and I need something fun.  Tera's books are are light, fun, and always feature a reluctant, relateable, kick-ass heroine; this book has three of them!  I have been anxiously awaiting this book since I heard about it months and months ago.  I am a fan and I had high expectations, and I was not at all disappointed!

The chapters alternate between three POV's: Grace, Gretchen, and Greer.  Each girl was adopted at birth and they were each brought up by their respective families in very different ways.  Unseen forces reunite the three girls when they are 16 and they are forced to decide whether or not they will fulfill their legacy as descendants of the legendary Medusa.  It was interesting being inside the head of each girl as she sorted out the feelings these new revelations brought on.  Grace was my favorite character.  She was sweet and determined.  They jury is still out one the other two... Aside from the three girls, there were also some boys- all swoon-worthy- but thankfully no love triangles.  The romantic element was sweet and I liked that the story didn't revolve around it.  There is also some mystery on that end, and I can't wait to see how that plays out in the next book.

As far as the story is concerned, it is my favorite of Tera's yet.  I loved her other books, but I really think she has outdone herself here; SO original.  Obviously, it is Greek Mythology based, but it's not a re-telling per se, but rather, a rewriting of history.  Medusa is portrayed as anything but the monster she is said to have been.  The monsters in the book were great; minotaurs, sphinxes, griffins, manticores, and my favorites- the hybrids!  Tera does a great job describing them in a way that makes them easy to picture and you can almost smell them.  I loved the action and suspense, and the pace was fast but no overwhelming.  This was a quick read and I am left wanting more.  The cliffhanger ending was one of the most frustrating (in a good way) for me since Catching Fire, so I will no doubt be practically offering my soul for an advance copy of book number two, Sweet Shadows, which is expected sometime in the Fall of 2012.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book is pretty clean.  There's some mild violence and pretty innocent romance (no sex).  I would say that this appropriate for ages 11 and up (5th/6th grade+).

**Don't forget to enter my AWESOME giveaway of an audio copy of the AMAZING All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin HERE!**

Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Flip by Martyn Bedford

Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books/Random House
Publication Date: April 5th, 2011

One December night, 14-year-old Alex goes to  bed. He wakes up to  find himself in the wrong bedroom, in an unfamiliar house, in a different part of the country, and it's the middle of June. Six months have disappeared overnight. The family at the breakfast table are total strangers.
And when he looks in the mirror, another boy's face stares back at him.  A boy named Flip. Unless Alex finds out what's happened and how to get back to his own life,  he may be trapped forever inside a body that belongs to someone else.
Questions of identity, the will to survive, and what you're willing to sacrifice to be alive make this extraordinary book impossible to put down.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

This book received starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Kirkus, so I had high hopes for it.  After the first 40 or so pages, I was beginning to get nervous, thinking I had gone into with too high expectations.  I was wrong... I always tell my kids to give a book five chapters before giving up, and I am glad I took my own advice, because despite its slow start, this book is definitely a winner.

This book is difficult to review because you really can't say much without spoiling it.  It is unpredictable, and aside from the slowish start, a fabulously paced ride.  I enjoyed the characters and had to wonder about what I would do if it were me in this situation.  What I really liked was how even though it was far-fetched, there was en element of plausibility to it; not enough for it to be believable, but almost.  The writing was great, the solution to the mystery unanticipated, and the characters real.  My favorite things about this book are the questions it raises about the mind and what makes us who we are.  If you like a book that will make you think and keep you guessing until the very end, give this one a shot.

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Grade Level Recommendation:  There is some teen drinking, a few swears, and some sex talk.  Also, the subject matter would be over the head of younger readers. I would put this at ages 12+ (7th grade and up).  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore

Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 23rd, 2011

I've seen him on the news. Followed the stories about what happened in Ohio. John Smith, out there, on the run. To the world, he's a mystery. But to me . . . he's one of us.

Nine of us came here, but sometimes I wonder if time has changed us—if we all still believe in our mission. How can I know? There are six of us left. We're hiding, blending in, avoiding contact with one another . . . but our Legacies are developing, and soon we'll be equipped to fight. Is John Number Four, and is his appearance the sign I've been waiting for? And what about Number Five and Six? Could one of them be the raven-haired girl with the stormy eyes from my dreams? The girl with powers that are beyond anything I could ever imagine? The girl who may be strong enough to bring the six of us together?

They caught Number One in Malaysia.
Number Two in England.
And Number Three in Kenya.
They tried to catch Number Four in Ohio—and failed.

I am Number Seven. One of six still alive.

And I'm ready to fight.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I was really disappointed with this book... I don't know if it's because the book actually sucked (which I suspect is the case), or if it's because I had such high expectations based on the first book, but I felt seriously let down after reading it.  I almost gave up on it several times, but I couldn't because I paid good money for it.  I typically read four books per week, and this book took me over a week to get through.  I just could not get into it enough to care.

I loved I Am Number Four, the first book in The Lorien Legacies series.  I thought it was paced well, had likable characters, and enough action to fill three books.  I read it quickly and waited, holding my breath, for the launch of book #2.  I really liked Number Six and was looking forward to reading her story.  Except that The Power of Six was not Six's story at all, it was the story of a girl named Marina, also known as Number Seven, and I just didn't find her all that interesting.  The "adventures" of Four, Six, and Sam seemed like filler, and I didn't feel an attachment to any of them like I did in the first book.  The first half of the book dragged horribly.  After that, it picked up some, but it was not until the final 100 pages that it really got good.  I will actually give it one more star than I would have for it's ending; because of it, I actually have hope the the third book will be worth reading.  I will give it a shot because I liked book #1 so much, but if it's as disappointing as this one was, it will be my last of this series.  Oh, and I will definitely get it from the library...

I cannot, for the life of me, understand why this book has a 4+ star rating on Goodreads. I usually find Goodreads so reliable, but in this case, I wholeheartedly disagree.  If you still want to read this book after reading my review, please go into it with LOW expectations...

If you want to read a really funny and creative review that pretty much sums up this book, click HERE, but be forewarned, it has spoilers.

My Rating: ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  Well, difficulty-wise, I would put this book at 3rd grade (maybe).  Content-wise, 5th grade and up (ages 10+).  There's no real objectionable content other than the whole video-game-like violence thing.

**Don't forget to enter my AWESOME giveaway of an audio copy of the AMAZING All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin HERE!**

Review: Forgotten by Cat Patrick

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: June 7th, 2011

Each night when 16 year-old London Lane goes to sleep, her whole world disappears. In the morning, all that's left is a note telling her about a day she can't remember. The whole scenario doesn't exactly make high school or dating that hot guy whose name she can't seem to recall any easier. But when London starts experiencing disturbing visions she can't make sense of, she realizes it's time to learn a little more about the past she keeps forgetting-before it destroys her future.

Part psychological drama, part romance, and part mystery, this thought-provoking novel will inspire readers to consider the what-if's in their own lives and recognize the power they have to control their destinies.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

When I heard about this book, I was totally intrigued.  What a great premise!  I was really excited when I finally got my hands on this, and actually waited a couple of weeks for my vacation because I knew I would want to read it straight through, and I did.  

At first I was thinking, "Wasn't this done in some Drew Barrymore/Adam Sandler movie?", and on the surface, it might seem that way, but it's just not so.  That movie was a romance and while the romantic element was okay for me, the mystery was what had me unable to put this book down.  How is it that this girl goes to bed each night, only to wake up having not memories of her past, but of her future?  Nothing of her past is there except what she writes down before her mind resets at 4:33am.  The "memories" of the future do help her some, but what happens when a person comes into her life that she doesn't see in her future?  Interesting as far as the romance goes, but the mystery is so much more than that...

I thought Cat Patrick did a fantastic job writing this book.  You never really get to know London like you would in the characters in other books, because she really doesn't know herself, but that what's so intriguing.  London can easily lie to herself with her notes, as she does from time to time.  Want to forget about something crappy that happened?  Great.  Just don't write it down... I think that is what made this book so awesome- you're never really prepared for the turns in events.  There is zero predictability. So many YA books are so painfully predictable (even the ones I love), that I feel so refreshed when an author keeps me guessing.

When I finished this book, I really wanted there to be a sequel; I wanted to know more about London and how things turn out for her.  However, after letting digest, I have to say that I think this is better as a stand-alone.  The pressing questions in this story were answered and I'm happy with the ending.  A reader can't ask for much more...

My Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★  

Grade Level Recommendation:  Pretty clean.  An innocent teen romance and a small amount of violence.  5th grade+ (Ages 11 and up).

**Don't forget to enter my AWESOME giveaway of an audio copy of the AMAZING All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin HERE!**